Berbatov: United’s tortured soul
Is it Andy Garcia he looks like? Or is there a touch of the Rudolph Valentinos about Dimitar Berbatov as he makes his way across the dining room of the Manchester United academy for a reluctant interview?
Whoever it is, there is definitely the brooding intensity of the moodiest of Hollywood leading men about United's £30m striker.
Berbatov, 28, is the real enigma of United's season, a man whose performances have divided their fans, whose 14 goals are seen as a poor return and whose position in the starting XI against Barcelona in Rome tomorrow is by no means assured. And, yes, as he walks over to the group of reporters waiting for him, Berbatov — as his way — takes his own sweet time.
The major criticism of the Bulgarian international? That the bloke just does not even look like he is trying. Certainly not amid the all-action styles of Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez but he has an answer for that, delivered as insouciantly as he plays. "You know," he says, "when someone has great qualities sometimes they don't have to put much effort into things. Sometimes the things I do look effortless but it's not like that. It's very difficult, but because of my style of play I make it look easy."
Already you are getting the picture: Berbatov is about as hard to pin down in conversation as he is when, in his best moments, he gets the ball at his feet and creates the impression that endless time and space are at his disposal. He comes across as something of a tortured soul and his style of self-appraisal is ruthlessly honest. His family history in Bulgaria was tough, and not just because of the relative lack of wealth.
But what about the season so far? He has scored 14 goals compared to 23 last year for Spurs yet he has finished with the most assists in the team. "Of course I can do a lot better," he says. "But in the end it's only important what the boss is going to say to me, if he is happy or not.” If he says he is not then I need to work to improve so I can be better next season."
Berbatov has played in a Champions League final before in 2002 for Bayer Leverkusen who eliminated United on away goals in the semi-finals before losing 2-1 to Real Madrid in the final.
Then 21, he came on in the 39th minute of the final and had a chance to equalise at the end but saw his shot saved by substitute goalkeeper Iker Casillas. "This memory haunts me," he said. "If I can make it right this time it will be good."
Talking of haunting memories, what about that dreadful penalty against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final shoot-out last month, the one that made it look like he did not care? "I'm not angry because I am my biggest critic," he said. "I know what I did wrong. I go home and try to get over things. Obviously it's very difficult when you make a mistake and everyone is trying to attack you. You try to be strong.
"It hurt a lot. I am not sure I would take a penalty [in Rome]. It's a very difficult decision. Let's hope it's not going to get to that because it's difficult.”